People usually blame cities for the impact they have on wildlife. However, an evolutionary biologist from Leiden University thinks urban areas can also have a positive influence on biodiversity. Instead of preventing evolution, cities might actually help animals and birds adapt to new environments and develop better surviving mechanisms. In fact, they can also ease the development of new species.
Cities produce a spike in biodiversity
Urban areas are often regarded as wildlife wastelands where humans destroy animals’ natural habitats. However, professor Menno Schilthuizen promotes cities as a good influence for biodiversity. Since creatures have to adapt to the new habitat, the process speeds up their evolution. This can lead to the emergence of whole new species of animals.
To explain the process better, Schilthuizen gave the example of a new species of mosquito. This creature is called the London Underground Mosquito, and has evolved in all types of underground areas, including subways, cellars, or basements. These mosquitoes no longer mix with the specimens above ground, so researchers are now calling it a whole new species.
Urban areas actually speed up evolution
Another good example is the one of the Hollywood bobcats. These creatures have adapted some different features that those in the north of the 101 freeway. This is an example of fragmentation which often occurs in cities. Artificial barriers lead to changes in animal populations, thus spiking biodiversity. Whenever one group of animals gets separated from a different one, evolution speeds up.
Schilthuizen says evolution is actually taking place a lot more quickly that Charles Darwin assumed. Scientists used to measure evolution in terms of generations. However, if more generations are born during a year, we can say the pace of evolution has got quicker.
Far from disrupting the environment, artificial changes might be great for biodiversity. They force animals to evolve new traits to survive. In a fragile ecological context, these changes are welcome, as they strengthen animal populations and increase their numbers.
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